Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Return to Sender

Do you remember those old portable wood-pulp hand-held information units? Books, I think we used to call them. Now they compete with electronic imitations. 50 books, 100 books – all stored and available onscreen, while your battery supply holds. It’s as if we no longer have the discernment and the patience to choose a book, purchase it or borrow it from a library (remember those?) and then go through the same process a few thousand words later.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete techno-killjoy; I am after all typing this on a computer and blessing the demi-god that is silicon. No, my real beef is with email.

Stephen Fry famously penned “The email of the species is more deadlier than the mail.” I’d change deadly for indifferent. Speaking as a jobbing (for which, read: starving) writer, I know that if I sent a stamped addressed envelope to an editor or agent, I’d be fairly certain of a reply within a fortnight. That’s for a pitch letter or an inquiry of course – not the 12 week anti-honeymoon period of manuscript submission.

But… send an email to the same person, where it costs them nothing to reply (they’re already paying for email, don’t be pedantic) and less time to compose than a letter, and what do you get? Often, precisely nothing. Which leaves you in the embarrassing position of either emailing them again or admitting defeat without even knowing if they've read and considered your email at all.

Perhaps we need a campaign: 'Bring back real mail.' The trouble is, it'd probably start off as an e-newsletter then progress to Twittering and an online petition.

It seems to me that the push-button instant gratification super-highway has a lot of lay-bys, regularly flytipped with dreams, hopes and projects that never came to be.

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